You've probably heard the adage,"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!" Missouri has been given some lemons in the form of bighead and silver carp. These large, plankton-eating fish, native to Asia, were imported into Arkansas in the 1970s to control water quality in fish farms and sewage treatment facilities. It didn't take long for the fish to escape to the wild, and their populations have been increasing ever since.
The Mississippi River and its tributaries were excellent highways for bighead and silver carp, allowing them to expand their range as far as Louisiana, South Dakota and Ohio.
In Missouri they are plentiful in the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. People using nets have taken more than a ton of large Asian carp from the calm area behind a single wing dike on the Missouri River. We don't know yet what the effect these exotic carp are having on native fish, but we are concerned they may have an impact on populations of native plankton feeders like paddlefish and gizzard shad.
A more immediate threat to Missourians is the possibility of Asian carp, especially silver carp, jumping into moving boats. You may imagine it would be quite novel for a 20-pound fish to jump into your boat, but being hit by a large Asian carp would be similar to being hit by a bowling ball.
When you add the speed of the boat to the force of impact, the threat of collisions become even more serious--possibly deadly. Even if the fish don't hit you, they can break fishing rods, windshields, electronics or anything else in your boat. As if adding insult, the carp will leave slime, blood and excrement on everything it touches.
The Missouri Department of Conservation and the U.S. Geological Survey are studying the threat of Asian carp and hopes to develop some methods to control the populations of these fish. Until then, they are like lemons that we have to deal with.
Fortunately, bighead and silver carp have a redeeming value: Their meat is absolutely delicious. I have eaten them pan-fried, deep-fried, grilled, baked, steamed, smoked, in curries, in soup and even pickled. They are delicious when prepared in any of those ways.
Don't believe all carp taste the same. There is no comparison between the firm, white, flaky meat of bighead and silver carp and the darker, strong-tasting meat of common carp. Silver carp also happen to be